Human-triggered avalanche reported at closed Steamboat Ski Area |

Human-triggered avalanche reported at closed Steamboat Ski Area

Michael Schrantz

— Steamboat Ski Area closed for the season Sunday and now is in the midst a major construction project, but recent snowfall has made the Routt National Forest land where the ski area operates too appealing for some to stay away.

The construction traffic of heavy machinery presents a danger to those hiking or skinning up the mountain, and the lack of ski area employees and patrollers maintaining snow stability can imperil those looking for spring turns.

According to a report submitted to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, a human-triggered avalanche occurred Wednesday "near summit 'ridge' ski run adjacent to chutes."

"Skinned up busy, but closed ski area, avoided D-7 cats and snowcats and dozens of hiking snowboarders to summit weather station area," John Morrone wrote.

An intentional cut on a 38 to 40 degree pitch near The Ridge run initiated sluff with a six-inch crown and an average width of 20 feet, according to the report.

The report stated that the sluff indicated poor bonding between the old, dirty, wind-hardened surface and about six inches of new snow.

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"Right now, since the mountain is closed, there is no maintenance, no grooming, no patrol, no checking of snow conditions," ski area spokeswoman Loryn Kasten said. "To be safest, we recommend people just avoid the mountain."

When the mountain is open, employees are checking snow conditions and making closure decisions based on the safety of terrain, and ski patrol does use hand-bombs when necessary to mitigate avalanche danger, according to Kasten.

"Everything skiers or snowboarders expect … none of that exists when we're closed," she said.

Avalanche danger for the Steamboat and Flat Tops area currently is rated moderate above tree line and low below it, according to the Avalanche Information Center. The report Wednesday showed moderate danger on all aspects.

“The recent snow fell onto a significant dust layer. Observers note the new snow is not bonding well to the dust layer. Storm/wind slab instabilities are stabilizing, but small sluffs and soft slab activity remain possible in the recent snow load,” read Thursday’s report for the Steamboat zone. “Unseasonably cold weather and periods of light snow remain in the forecast. The snowpack remains winter-like.”